dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

Why do people say 'after dark' when what they mean is 'during dark'? After dark would be when it's light again, right? * There are 10 types of people in this world -- those who read binary, and those who don't. * I'm rethinking the whole brown rice thing. What if it's just more white liberal self-hatred? Whole wheat, honey, unbleached flour. All better. Sez who? * Eugene should be HQ for White People for Diversity. We'll fight for diversity to be included in books, which is where we know to look for it. * Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but give a man a pillow, and he'll dream of steak. * What can you say about a state that puts the town of North Bend 225 miles southwest of Bend? We rely on visitors for entertainment.

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Filibuster Talk Won’t Work Unless Senators Listen

February 27th, 2015 · 3 Comments

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Oregon Senator Bob Packwood led the news on February 25, 1988.

Democrats in the United States Senate wanted to pass some campaign finance reforms. Republicans were opposed. The Democratic leadership tried to force Republicans to filibuster their bill. Republican minority leader Alan Simpson of Wyoming repeatedly noted the absence of a quorum.

Republicans held 46 seats, enough to stop the Democratic agenda. They also wanted to save themselves the trouble of an all-night talkathon. Denying the body its quorum was the tactic they chose. Republicans met in the cloakroom and dispersed from there. Packwood returned to his office, locked the doors, and watched the proceedings on television.

Democrats realized they’d been had and so they relied on one of the Senate’s earliest rules to remedy the situation. Sen. Robert Byrd, a master parliamentarian, invoked “a call of the house” to reach a quorum.

That authorized the sergeant-at-arms to arrest any recalcitrant senators and bring them to the chamber so that work could resume. When Capitol Police came looking for Packwood, he was given up by his cleaning lady. His office door was forcibly opened (or broken down, depending on the news account) and he was brought into the chamber feet first at 1:17 AM.

The Senate didn’t much care for the image of one of their own being carried in against his will. They probably cared even less for Packwood’s grandstanding about the experience. “I rather enjoyed it,” Packwood told the Associated Press. “I’ve instructed four of my staff to get a sedan chair.”


For the other 99 members of what’s been called the world’s most exclusive club, that comment (and the related photo op) may have struck a bit too close to home. Not only did Republicans succeed in blocking the proposed legislation, but they made Democrats look bad in the process.

If the scene described sounds familiar to you, it may be because it was playfully but accurately portrayed in a melodramatic climax during season two of “House of Cards.” (Season three is being released by Netflix today.)

Now comes Sen. Jeff Merkley, also of Oregon. He and other reformers would like to see the United States Senate require a “talking filibuster” similar to Jimmy Stewart’s depiction in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

The United States Senate is famously proud of its traditions. Adherence to its own rules is only slightly less important than fulfilling its obligations prescribed in the Constitution. The filibuster rule dates back to 1806. Its practice began in 1837.

But the rule that (literally) ensnared Packwood is older than that.

The Senate originally dispersed in the summer as farm and harvest duties drew Senators back to their home states. Some couldn’t resist leaving before the summer recess began, leaving leaders without a necessary quorum. Without a quorum, nothing could be done.

In 1798, the Senate adopted a rule allowing less than a quorum to authorize expenses for the sergeant-at-arms to bring absent members back to the chamber. Those senators who had prematurely left town (or hidden in their office) could be chased down and brought back. They would be then obligated to pay whatever expenses the sergeant-at-arms incurred in returning them.

As anyone who watches C-SPAN closely can attest, the Senate floor fills for votes and empties for speeches. But the rule requiring senators to be in attendance is still on the books and can be invoked by any senator at any time.

“You cannot force senators to talk during a filibuster,” according to Bob Dove, who served as Senate parliamentarian from 1966 until 2001 and wrote a book on the topic. The Senator could simply say, “I suggest the absence of a quorum.” That would trigger a roll call. When that finished, the Senator could again notice the absence of a quorum and start the process all over.

Without a quorum, the only options available would be recess, adjournment, or compelling Senators to attend. In other words, the Senate could indeed require a Senator to talk during a filibuster, but not without also requiring 50 other Senators to sit and listen.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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Draining Traditional Distinctions Creates Modern Perils

February 20th, 2015 · 5 Comments

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We’re in the midst of a profound unraveling. I’m not thinking about the upheaval we’ve been watching at the Oregon governor’s mansion, but even that is part of the civic centrifuge we’re witnessing.

We’ve always been told that we can count on only a few certainties: life, death and taxes, by some accounts; love and war, by others. These fundamentals are shifting under our feet, slowly but surely. Look no further than the daily headlines.

No need to discuss measles and vaccinations again. Everybody has their opinion fixed by now. But how did it return as an issue at all? Measles went away, but then came back. Herd immunity gave us a mathematical protection from an epidemic. Dissenters seemed harmless. Once we slipped beneath that numerical threshold, we found ourselves facing a possible crisis and a real panic.

We thought we were protected, because we were. Slowly that changed, until we weren’t safe any more. Small changes can evade our detection.

A British biotech firm wants to release millions of genetically modified mosquitoes in southern Florida. They’ve done it already in Brazil. They hope to slow the plague of dengue, which is migrating north as the planet warms — another possible epidemic knocking at our door. Other British scientists have plans to combine two women’s DNA during in vitro fertilization to sidestep certain genetic defects, giving the child literally three parents.

Have we really thought these remedies through?

On the other end of the spectrum, Facebook last week changed its policy and will allow users to live forever on its site. Simply designate a “legacy contact” who will be allowed to respond to new friend requests, update your cover photo and profile, and post on your behalf after you die. Death, where is thy sting?

Nothing focuses a person’s mind like death or a nation’s resolve like war, but even here, we’re erasing the lines we’ve been careful to color inside. How do we declare war against something not yet declared a country? The so-called Islamic State claims a caliphate for itself, but without borders or diplomats or trash collection. What exactly is our goal?

A mythical state cannot surrender a sovereignty it never gained, so how do we wage war against it? What would victory even look like? We can relax after they’ve stopped threatening us, but it could eventually return — just like measles did.

Taxes are no longer as clear as they were just a few years ago. Individuals who fail to purchase health insurance will soon be getting a bill from the Internal Revenue Service. Is that a fee, a penalty, or a tax? The Obama administration claimed it’s a fee, but the United States Supreme Court classified it as a tax. Now some of the subsidies provided by the Affordable Care Act are coming under similar scrutiny. What you call something can change what it becomes. It’s all getting very confusing.

Which brings us to now-former Governor John Kitzhaber. He’s not confused, he has claimed, but we are.

Details already are emerging about how his lawyers intend to defend him. Since Cylvia Hayes was only the governor’s girlfriend until last summer, and only his fiancée since then, she is not legally part of his household.

Even though she lived with the governor and identified herself as Oregon’s first lady, only marriage would make her a public official, binding her to certain ethics laws and disclosure obligations. The trouble here is that Kitzhaber also would like to claim confidentiality privileges that are afforded only to spouses. (Oregon does not recognize common law marriages.)

If he’d been trained as a lawyer and not as a doctor, he may have seen sooner the tightrope he was walking. But we’re walking it too. We’re fine with our governor cohabiting with his girlfriend because we’re modern, enlightened, tolerant people. Marriage doesn’t really matter, until it really does.

We keep throwing out the bathwater of distinctions, figuring the babies can fend for themselves. I’m not suggesting the bathwater doesn’t need changing — only that it’s the babies that really matter, if only because they end up looking a lot like us.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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Celebrate a Tiny Treasure on Friday the 13th

February 13th, 2015 · 5 Comments

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Today is Friday the 13th, and a month from now, we’ll have another. Two days of superstition rarely fall so closely together. Let’s Seize the Day(s) and consider how lucky we are — granting that luck comes in two flavors.

When random misfortune befalls us, we describe ourselves as “unlucky.” That’s proof enough for me that good luck is where we naturally begin. Bad luck is less than nothing — it’s only good luck lost. And so, reflecting on our collective misfortune can wait until March.

Look around you. The air is clear. The water is clean. The sky is blue. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. It is February, after all — the month everyone wants to pass through quickly. We’re glad they made it shorter than all the others for a reason.

But even in February, good luck is all around us. You have your list of favorites and I have mine. Lists don’t always make good reading, so I’d rather direct your attention to just one good luck charm that is available to all of us.

It’s invisible but not unseen. It makes very little noise itself, but its sounds are familiar to many. Its mission focuses on children, yet only our senior citizens witnessed its birth.

The Pacific Northwest never had an FM radio signal until KRVM-FM went on the air in 1947. Its operating license has been held by a single owner — the Eugene 4J School District. Kids — high school students and younger — have held the public trust, while learning to communicate clearly, show up on time, and build their confidence.

When the students should be sleeping or studying, adult volunteer deejays fill the chockablock schedule of diverse musical tastes that cover the gamut.

I love our public radio stations, and we have plenty of them, but KRVM-FM is a rare species in the genus. High school radio stations usually have low-wattage signals with a neighborhood reach. KRVM-FM is 15,000 watts, reaching the coast and the mountains. A Sheldon High School student may not be able to find Reedsport on a map, but her voice finds its way into Reedsport homes.

Somehow — remember, our topic today is luck — elected school board members have resisted the temptation to divest the school district of the radio station. Just imagine how many management consultants have advised how many superintendents to sell the station and use the money to buy more books! In a business as bruising as radio, with larger conglomerates buying smaller conglomerates, KRVM-FM has somehow held on, Keeping Real Variety in Music.

Who do we thank for this local treasure? Well, nobody. Or everyone. It just ambles along, powered by the passions of its volunteers and its listeners. It boasts no grand design, no lofty aspirations, except to keep doing what it’s been doing for 68 years.

It’s easy to miss the valor of “Just Showing Up” every day for decades. I like to think of the slow-and-steady ones as horizontal heroes. There’s not a moment when the heroism spikes to an amazing height — only a steady stream of sameness, stretching across time. There’s a courage to consistency.

KRVM Operations Manager Cambra Ward estimates that every week, adult volunteers contribute 150 hours to the station. Her guess is way low; I guarantee it. There’s just no good way to tabulate the moment of inspiration that happens in the shower, or the fascinating triptych of melodies that pop into a deejay’s head from the pillow, as if delivered by a dream that crossed over into the waking world.

On the other end, there’s no way to know how many people clean their garage or kitchen at a particular time each week because of the companionship they trust, coming from their radio. Or the gatherings that form around listening parties. Or the conversations that begin because of a comment offered over the air. Public trust, indeed.

We can’t know how much good has come to us, for how long, or from where. Some of our fortune is untraceable and incalculable. So we just call it luck and consider ourselves lucky.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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Both Sides Are Right: A System Error Has Occurred

February 6th, 2015 · 3 Comments

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Let’s not talk about vaccinating children for a moment, even though Lane County has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation. Let’s talk about how we talk about vaccinating children.

I know a few anti-vaxxers and I can tell you this. They are smart and good-hearted people who want to do what’s right. I also know some public health professionals who believe vaccinations may not be perfect, but they provide our best protection against epidemics. They also are smart and caring people, dedicated to what’s in the public’s best interest.

So, who’s right? They’re both right, and that’s what’s wrong.

Each side believes in doing the right thing, but they evaluate the rectitude of the choices offered differently. Here’s where language has us bollixed up, to use the technical term.

Let’s suppose the words “moral” and “ethical” should not be used interchangeably, but separated to denote different systems of thought.

Morality is our oldest system of evaluating ourselves — “pertaining to character or temperament,” according to the word’s 14th century roots. Religions are rooted in morality. So are wars. In a world that pits good versus evil, what must you do to protect and provide for your own — your body, your family, your tribe?

Ethics came later, building upon what came before. Its earliest definition refers to a “science of morals” or a systemization of morality. When humans began cohering into larger groups, that systemization became essential. Rulers needed to maintain order across languages, locations, religions and tribes. Laws were published and criminals were punished so that empires could be built.

The first system defined individual character (good or evil) and the later system evaluated actions (right or wrong).

These systems usually fit together just fine, but not always. Social scientists have even coined a term for the various thought experiments where they diverge. Imagine a trolley careening down a steep street. Dozens of passengers are headed for death, but you have an opportunity to save them. All you have to do is push a certain fat man into the path of the trolley. (Sorry, but your own body mass will not suffice to slow the car.) It will kill the man, but save dozens of others.

In other words, do you inflict personal harm to one (a morally repugnant act) to save dozens of others (an ethically defensible motive)? These dilemmas are called “trolleyisms.” The trolley story is handy because it’s scalable. What if your action would save not dozens, but hundreds? What if the man would be maimed but not killed?

Using the current parlance, ethical behavior is utilitarian in its nature. What’s best for everyone, granting that trade-offs are inevitable? The ethical system spins outward — what will do the greatest good for the greatest number for the longest time?

The moral system is simpler, if only because it asks you to consider fewer people. Morality spins inward. The harder you think about that sort of “right thing to do,” the smaller (and stronger) your circle of protection becomes.

There are plenty of exceptions, but conservatives look to morals and liberals consider ethics. Televangelist Jerry Falwell couldn’t have led the Ethical Majority. The New York Times would be pilloried by its liberal readers if its Sunday magazine advice column was titled “The Moralist.”

Now apply this keener distinction to the vaccination dilemma. A parent feels morally obligated to protect her child from any risks related to vaccination. It doesn’t matter how likely or how severe those risks are. The parent’s view is “zoomed in.”

The public health official has a wide-angled lens, surveying steps to protect the public from an epidemic. Taking a public stand against vaccinations would be considered unethical. Once vaccination rates fall below what’s necessary for herd immunity, the trolleyism appears.

An awful (and I do mean awful) lot of our modern conundrums can be better understood after we delineate which system we’re using to determine whether we’re doing the right thing. You can find the trolleyisms clouding our discussions about guns, drugs, prisons, abortion, health care, climate change, and jihad. I suggest you start with Oregon’s “gay wedding cake” controversy.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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January 30th, 2015 · 8 Comments

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Fifth Friday Footnotes, Follow-ups and Far-Flung Fripperies:

    • Now that EPUD General Manager Scott Coe has his job back, I have just one question. Does he get to keep the iPad?
    • EPUD is making available to the public all those hours of tape-recorded conversations. Here’s what will happen. After a quick hit of embarrassment, everyone will stop caring. Leaders at University of Oregon, 4J School District, and UO Board of Trustees: please take note.
    • Companies who want more lateral thinking should give their workers more latitude to solve problems.
    • The first College Football Playoff went like this. Florida State lost badly to Oregon, and Ohio State barely beat Alabama. Did anyone decry college football’s excessive vowelance? No.
    • Sometimes I mix my half-and-half with 2%, just to keep my math skills sharp.
    • Would you rather loll or LOL?
    • Once you put the “dance” in “avoidance,” you never forget the steps.
    • Which tells you more about a person — their bookshelf or refrigerator?
    • “Instant classic” is oxy- (if not outright) moronic.
    • For how many months or years after an automated phone tree’s “menu options have changed” must we “please listen closely”?
    • Now that we run words together to make hashtags and URLs, I have new respect for consonants.
    • Put. A. Period. Between. Every. Word. People like that.
    • We need a winter afternoon savory drink — for afternoon meetings when it’s too late for caffeine and too early for alcohol. Summer fruit smoothies are good, but this time of year, only hot cider is on the menu. Townshend’s Eugene Teahouse offers miso, but I want it in a mug. I’m thinking chicken broth with a swirl of gravy — comfort and warmth for a winter afternoon. (You’re welcome.)
    • Over-reliance on autocorrect should be considered a capital offense.
    • Some days I feel accomplished simply by using up pantry items before they’ve reached their expiration date.
    • I’m unclear on the concept of binge-watching. Does it prove that even Americans with no money can overindulge?
    • Resolving is really just solving a second time — as if the first answer wasn’t right enough.
    • You’re not a millionaire, but you might feel better if you considered yourself a thousandaire.
    • A wonk knows a topic backwards and forward, right? So it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that “wonk” is “know” spelled backwards.
    • Collecting autographs is silly.
    • Addictions and young love share the romance of helplessness.
    • Don’t resolve to lose weight. Instead, refuse to buy bigger pants. Refusing is usually stronger than resolving.
    • Thinking outside the box is like seeing through the emperor’s new clothes. The error of groupthink often begins with a misplaced preposition.
    • Disobey your fear.
    • Language is most powerful when mixed with reflection. Speech doesn’t easily allow for it; instant messaging even less so. I hope letter writing never disappears entirely.
    • Twenty-four is sometimes too many hours for a day.
    • Is life too short to drink 2% milk? Or does it become too short if you don’t? (I want to feel whole inside.)
    • It’s getting harder to tell who might be feeling lonely. In the past you could watch their front door and have a pretty good idea.
    • How did open-toed footwear become favored by civil libertarians? Free the toes, then the people!
    • Curiosity and humility share a root stock — namely, a recognition of self-deficiency.
    • Are dog sweaters multiplying? If so, can anything be done?
    • “Galore” is a word worth saving.
    • Law and order are the same as peace and quiet, but writ large.
    • Sometimes I want my socks floppy. Other times I don’t.
    • I’ll bet Steve Jobs’ bathroom had velour towels. He’d rather an object be beautiful all the time, even if that beauty makes it slightly less useful. (In other words, I miss my flip phone.)
    • After losing to terror, drugs and poverty, can we admit that metaphorical wars are never winnable?
    • You cannot make normal. You only can be normal.
    • Certain questions must be asked and answered in order. “Will it taste good?” doesn’t get asked until “Will I taste good?” has been answered.
    • I think I know why there are no parades celebrating National Marble Day.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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Do We Understand Proximity? Not Even Close!

January 23rd, 2015 · 4 Comments

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Smart people sometimes create their own confusion. We use metaphors to better understand the world, but then sometimes the metaphor overshadows the literal. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about proximity, prompted in part by Barbara Mossberg’s lovely letter to the editor last month.

If you missed it, Mossberg’s brief letter rhapsodized poetically about the sound of a train whistle. It marks the passing of time, the industry of others, the ability to get things done. Without naming names, she argued that a railroad “quiet zone” through downtown Eugene might sound good to many, but something would be lost.

If only the train whistle could be far away for everyone and nearby for no one.

My office for four years was a block from the train tracks. When a train rumbled through, you could feel it. If the horn was blaring, you couldn’t hear yourself think, much less think about what you were hearing.

Somewhere between that office and Mossberg’s home, there’s a dotted line. It’s different for every person, but it’s a line nevertheless. On one side of the line, the sound is pleasing. On the other side, it’s a nuisance.

I’m not choosing sides on the quiet zone issue and I don’t believe Mossberg meant to either. I’m pointing out only that the issue has two sides, that the sides are quite dissimilar, and that distance sometimes changes something into something else.

Not very long ago, we gave special stature to those who were immediately and directly impacted by an issue. A tall building could be stopped if a neighbor’s garden would get less sun. A corner bar could lose its license if too many residents nearby complained. A street would get widened only if affected property owners agreed to the improvement.

We gave that healthy dynamic a name: Not In My Back Yard. Once it became an acronym — NIMBY — it began to take on a life of its own. Here’s where the literal got overwhelmed by the metaphor.

When NIMBY expressed the views of those who had a “BY” connected to the issue, it was self-limiting. There are only a certain number of “back yards” connected to a train whistle or a corner bar or a tall building. We gave those affected a larger voice because we acknowledged their lesser number.

The train whistle is far away for many, but the teeth-rattling din is a stronger sensation for the few. That’s an important distinction and part of a healthy debate.

But now NIMBY has become a world view. Everything — and everyone — is connected, so that special stature can be claimed by anyone who connects a certain set of dots. Watershed purity, a pleasing skyline, taxpayer-funded addiction treatment, emergency vehicle response times — once everyone can claim that special status, the status ceases being special.

Retired architecture professor Dan Herbert told me once, “NIMBY has been replaced with BANANA — Build Almost Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.” Like the train whistle, we want everything close, but not too close. It’s not hard to understand that’s not possible for everyone all the time, which is why compromises must be made.

Living together is complicated, so it’s important not to get confused. Because sometimes it’s not the garden squash that might die.

Lane County is confronting a possible measles epidemic, due in part by parents who have refused to vaccinate themselves or their children. It’s not hard to find like-minded parents on the Internet, sharing concerns and conspiracies that make a parent feel strongly about their choice. We “feel close” to those in the chat room who agree with us, but the measles virus doesn’t understand or abide by the metaphor.

Taking that infected child to the mall endangers infants who are too young to be vaccinated or to join Internet chat rooms. No harm comes to anyone when a Facebook video “goes viral.” Not so when a literal virus comes in literal contact with someone who is literally close.

We love to talk about all the ways our world is shrinking. Let’s occasionally remind ourselves that there are certain ways in which that’s not true and never will be.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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Eugene Had Its Own “Charlie Hebdo”

January 16th, 2015 · 11 Comments

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Nous sommes Charlie.

Eugene has a unique connection to the French satire periodical Charlie Hebdo, that is gathering worldwide sympathies since last week’s attack that killed a dozen of its staffers.

We gave succor and support to our own Comic News from 1988 until 2005. We didn’t stand in its way as it grew into America’s only free weekly cartoon and humor magazine.

I managed those antics for its final decade, as if anyone can ever claim that antics have been managed. You tolerated it every week, which is all the encouragement some of us need. We are Charlie.

When the Skinner Butte Cross was being removed, Comic News suggested it be replaced with a clothesline between our buttes, where residents could air our dirty laundry. When the new library was being designed, we were the first to recommend a fourth floor — though our idea was to leave the third floor unfinished as an art installation, allowing residents to argue for a decade about what should fill it.

Comic News never endorsed candidates, but we did assemble a panel of experts to determine that John Kitzhaber governed his hair better than opponent Bill Sizemore did. When developer John Musumeci was grabbing headlines for his own antics, his investment company was still listed in the phone book as Arlie Land & Cattle Co., so Comic News staffers called his office regularly with questions about vaccinating cows.

We were threatened with lawsuits, jack-booted thugs, and an occasional punch in the nose, but we never got a death threat. No harm ever befell us. Like Charlie, we never missed a deadline.

The University of Oregon’s Special Collections Library now has a near-complete set of our 505 issues. I like to imagine our archives and Ken Kesey’s mixing it up after the lights go out.

When Danish cartoonists drew a fatwa for depicting Mohammed in 2005, we republished the offending cartoons as soon as we could, though that was after our free local edition had ceased publication. Here’s a factoid you may not have known, because we never told anyone. Our editor, publisher, head writer, and art director all had religion degrees — from Vanderbilt, Yale, Notre Dame and Bob Jones University.

That never surprised me. Once you’ve thought deeply about God — regardless of where those thoughts led you — all the foibles of humanity find a larger context. It’s easier to find what’s funny when there’s nothing that’s out of bounds.

We insisted that funny was all that mattered, but we also knew that wasn’t the case. If it wasn’t at least a little bit true, it couldn’t stay funny for long. Likewise, mean-spiritedness might evoke laughter to mask discomfort, but only for a moment or two. Making it both funny and true was the trick we tried to pull on every page. It made for some late nights. There was always pizza.

Comic News pushed the envelope, but licked it first with great care. You laughed, so you were implicated too. Humor allows no bystanders; only accomplices.

So the groundswell of support for Charlie also doesn’t surprise me. We may comfort ourselves by marginalizing our clowns and court jesters, but we know their role is essential to any good we hope to do. Self-importance, overreach and groupthink will always plague human endeavors. Humor offers an antidote to our arrogant excesses.

Commentator David Brooks and others may want to put the jokesters at the children’s table, leaving serious discussions for the so-called adults. I’ve spent Thanksgivings at each table. The kids’ table was way more fun.

That’s not to say the fun isn’t also useful. It is. When the emperor parades around buck naked, it will be one of the so-called childish ones who dares to say what everyone can see.

We mustn’t think these outliers don’t matter. The clowns play an important role in this rodeo we call life. The face paint and the silly shoes exaggerate their human features, but their serious job is to save us from whatever trouble we’ve created. We don’t stop to think what bad might befall them, until it does.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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It’s More than a Big Game — Life Has Changed Since 2007

January 9th, 2015 · No Comments

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We all want Monday’s football game to be about more than the game. We want it to be about life, history, the whole shebang. That would help explain how we have rearranged our lives to watch what others think is “just a game.” With appropriate apologies to both mountains and mole hills, I’m only too happy to oblige.

On February 14, 2007, the University of Oregon hired a little-known coach from New Hampshire to be their football team’s new offensive coordinator. That same day, the Federal Reserve worried in its quarterly report that median home sales were dropping. We saw the first signs of a sub-prime mortgage industry collapse. The housing bubble was about to burst.

What followed seemed like chaos at the time, but now we can see that a fundamental realignment was underway. For the United States economy and for collegiate football, nothing has been the same since. Here are a few lessons we have learned.

Big, Fat and Happy? How Does Two Out of Three Sound?

Americans for not-quite-a-century have been known for being “big, fat, and happy.” We’ve done it better than anyone else in the world. But recently — only in the last couple of decades — the “fat” part of the formula has become troublesome. For the first time since World War I, Americans sense they are falling behind.

Football recruiting has long held to the belief that a successful teams needs only a few “unstoppable forces,” but dozens of “immoveable objects.” It was easy to train a big kid to stand still and let physics do the rest. The “smash-mouth” game wasn’t much fun to watch, and even less fun to play. But it worked — until it didn’t.

Trade Width for Height and Go For Wing-Span

Every 300-pound high schooler will get plenty of offers to play football. In the old way of doing things, simply taking up room was enough for earning one’s keep. University of Oregon Strength and Conditioning Coach Jim Radcliffe sees it differently — physical mass is good, but explosive power is better. The Ducks started recruiting for height and wingspan. As Coach Ken Woody harps at the defense in his columns, “get your hands up.”

Likewise, savvy employers have changed how they recruit employees. Gone are the days when workers were hired based on their work experience, grade point average, and professional pedigree. Companies are increasingly designing their own creativity and problem-solving tests. They care less about how good a worker might be at what they currently do. The emerging metric is how good they’re likely to be at whatever they’re asked to do next.

Speed is Not Only in Your Feet

The Ducks recruit for speed. (It helps that Hayward Field offers our only legitimate sport legacy.) But speed has to be mixed with smarts in our system. The “zone-read” system is designed to give players multiple options. Adaptation is key. Effort matters, of course. But output is less disputable. Trying your hardest won’t matter, if what you’re doing doesn’t work.

Whether we’re merging onto a highway, choosing from a dinner menu, or buying an extended warranty on our latest electronic gadget, we’ve never been asked to make more choices in life. Unfortunately, life didn’t slow down to make room for all that choosing. So those who do well and sleep content are those who have learned to make their choices quickly and clearly.

Role Players? Try Roll Players

Running back Byron Marshall reinvented himself as a wide receiver. No cornerback wants to Marshall’s fullback frame at full speed in the open field. If you can roll with what the system requires, there’s a bright future for you. If you’re planning to stand pat and play a single role for decades, good luck with that.

In today’s economy, gold watches are no longer being given for years of service. Every day is a competition. Workers follow opportunities and reinvent themselves to capitalize on them. If there’s an opening — whether inside the company or working for a competitor — it’s full-steam ahead.

The West Shall Rise Again

Populists have gotten frustrated with the continual gridlock in Washington, DC, so they’ve turned to states and cities, where progressive policies can be incubated and proven. Whether it’s for minimum wage increases, marijuana destigmatization, sick-leave mandates, or inventive transit projects, the West is seen as fertile ground. There’s less fear of the unknown out here, even though there may be more unknowns.

While the rest of the country would mostly prefer to resist change, we’re more likely to embrace those changes and find ways to make them work for us. In post-season play this year, ranked PAC-12 football teams were 5-1. Not only did the South East Conference get shut out from the national championship game for the first time in more than a decade, but their ranked teams were 2-5 in bowl play.
Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Being Resolute Can Change Everything

January 9th, 2015 · No Comments

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If more people made New Year’s resolutions, teaching evolution in high schools wouldn’t be so perilous.

What teenagers too often take from their life science lessons is not what scientists would call evolution, strictly speaking. Regardless of what’s being taught, what high schoolers are learning is gradualism. They take the lesson to mean that change always happens slowly, imperceptibly, by natural but unseen forces.


As we’ve secularized our society, we’ve lost one of religion’s best conceptual contributions — conversion. Whether it’s by divine calling or personal choice, people and circumstances sometimes change all at once. Some would even claim that dramatic change more the rule than the exception.

Biologists refer to the history of change as “punctuated equilibrium.” When they’re speaking among themselves, they use the shorthand term “punk-eek.” (Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Biologists suddenly seem adorable.)

Biological history ambles along in no particular hurry. “Same old, same old” is how it usually goes. Random changes occur all the time, but most are flushed out by the status quo. Stillborn or sterile, mistakes are most often forgotten.

Occasionally a random mutation — by itself or in combination with an environmental upheaval — leads to a big change. The sameness is punctured. Smaller changes ensue until a new status quo takes over. Then things stay the same again, until they don’t.

Cultures follow a similar pattern. Civilizations want to maintain order and mostly they do. Occasional disruptions occur, but most flush away after a news cycle or two. Rarely but reliably, larger disruptions take hold and alter the course of human events. As with genes, so with memes.

Individuals challenge the status quo and sometimes the quo loses its status. Changes occur.

That’s why resolutions are important. They remind us of our greatest power as humans — to change, intentionally. We can recognize the patterns of our own behavior, imagine a different pattern, and then will ourselves to alter that pattern. We can perceive circumstances around us, understand our role in maintaining the current order, and choose to disrupt it.

Any day is a good day to make a change, but January offers social support. Others are pushing themselves to change. That makes it a little easier for each of us to push ourselves. By February, nobody will be asking about it anymore, so there’s little risk of enduring the shame of failure.

In fact, success is barely the point. Every attempt — even if it lasts only a day — is a success, because it reminds us that we can exert some control, if only for a moment or two. Sometimes that’s enough. We need occasional reminders that we still have a say in our future. We’re not victims in our own lives, unless we choose to be.

Picking a resolution that’s hard, but not too hard is often the trickiest part. Resolving not to kiss a dog in 2015 might be too hard; resolving not to kiss a dog in church, too easy. You’re looking for that sweet spot that contains both comfort and challenge. You’re seeking disequilibrium. You want your “eek” to be “punked.”

How would you like the world to be different once 2016 rolls around? How would you like your own world to differ? Change is always available. Sometimes asking is all that’s necessary.

If you make a change, no matter how small or how brief, you’re exerting yourself on the world as you know it. Your actions suggest and support a simple truth: Things don’t have to stay the way they are. Nothing can improve if change is forbidden. Change doesn’t always lead to improvement, but improvement comes from nowhere else.

The lesson evolution means to teach us is that tinkering can never be underrated. The smallest change — unnoticed and seemingly random — might produce enormous consequences. Not knowing where it might take you is exactly the point. As things were, things no longer are, thanks to you.

You cannot know the ultimate power of that, but somewhere there will be a high school biology teacher who’d like to thank you.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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… lateralists wanted (?) …

January 2nd, 2015 · No Comments

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Companies who claim they want to encourage more lateral thinking should give their workers more latitude to solve problems.

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